Tell Keith Lockhart that you saw an autographed poster of the Boston Pops album “Runnin’ Wild” at a flea market, and the conductor will admit that there are other treasures that pop up from time to time. “It’s a little-known fact there actually is a Keith Lockhart bobblehead doll. It was a project of the Lowell Spinners baseball organization,” he says. “And we said no, because we thought that was, I don’t know, beneath the dignity of the august BSO or something like that. And they did it anyway. So shortly afterwards, at flea markets everywhere, there are these bobblehead dolls. Very bad likeness too. An anonymous fan sent me one and I think it’s hysterical.” (There were eight available on eBay as these words were written.)
What’s making Lockhart’s head bounce nowadays is the first in-person Boston Pops spring season since 2019, beginning Thursday and running through June 11. Things have opened up incrementally for the Pops since the initial pandemic shutdown, of course; first there were audience-free performances for at-home viewing, then outdoor concerts at Tanglewood, followed by a 2021 Holiday Pops season at the orchestra’s Symphony Hall home. But the upcoming season still feels notable. “I think it’s going to feel new for a while, and that’s not all a bad thing,” says Lockhart.
The season’s program kicks off with a salute to Disney composer Alan Menken (May 19 and 21) before movie-with-live-score-accompaniment tributes to John Williams (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” on May 26 and 28, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” on June 2, 3, and 4). An Ellington program on June 9 and 10 puts the spotlight on the Duke’s collaborator Billy Strayhorn with the help of pianist Lara Downes and Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, while Grammy winner Smokie Norful headlines the return of Gospel Night on June 11. And following previous years’ appearances by “Hamilton” stars Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Phillipa Soo, it’s George Washington’s turn, as Christopher Jackson performs on June 7 and 8.
“What we’d really like to do,” Lockhart says, “is actually make it impossible for Lin-Manuel Miranda to say no.”
Q. December’s Holiday Pops was the first time the Boston Pops performed in Symphony Hall for an audience since the COVID lockdown. How did that feel?
A. Exhilarating. When you center your life around doing that, around playing concerts for people and have done it for longer than you can remember, it’s so unmooring to find yourself without that to do. But to actually put Holiday Pops out there and to do very close to a full run and to have lots of people there, to really have it be a success, to realize that they did find their way back and that their need to be with us and celebrate together won out over everybody’s trepidations about coming back to this . . . it was great.
Q. You’ve got two kids under 12, and your first spring Pops concert after a two-year lockdown celebrates the music of “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Aladdin” composer Alan Menken. Coincidence?
A. My oldest of the two at home just turned 12, actually, but he’s an unusual kid, and he generally really hates animated movies. [Laughs] And the even more ironic thing is the 10-year-old who really, really loves that music has conflicts with both of the concerts, so he’s not coming to those. So I have to have other people’s 10- and 12-year-olds come to the concert.
Q. So this isn’t just the music you’ve been hearing nonstop since this all started and you just thought, “If I have to deal with it, everybody else does.”
A. Yes, exactly. It’s an [earworm] and I just couldn’t get rid of it. No, actually, this was one of the few concerts we were able to move more or less intact. This was on the 2020 season and of course didn’t happen then.
When you look at it, it’s kind of a meeting between music theater and pop culture for kids. And when you think that “Beauty and the Beast” as a movie is now, what, 30 years old? So it’s no longer kids. The people who were madly in love with Belle and the Beast will be bringing their own kids to the concert at this point.
Q. Did you ever think that you would outlast Mayor [Thomas] Menino?
A. [Laughs] I don’t think anybody thought anybody would outlast Menino. When I think about how much has changed since 1995 in Boston and in the community and the people who I interacted with at that point, it’s kind of amazing to be looking at 27 years now. It’s very funny, because people made a big woohoo of it when I passed John [Williams] as the second-longest-tenured conductor of the Boston Pops, and I’ve doubled that since then. And everybody says, “Wow, now you’re only second to Arthur Fiedler.” I’m like, Yeah, but there’s no way I’m ever gonna catch him. It’s like Arthur Fiedler lapped me by seven times. And I don’t really have any interest in being here 23 more years. That sounds pretty painful for all concerned. [Laughs]
This interview has been edited and condensed. Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc
BOSTON POPS SPRING 2022 SEASON
At Symphony Hall, May 19-June 11. Tickets from $33. 617-266-1200 or www.bso.org/pops